According to the Hand Therapy Certification Commission (HTCC), certified hand therapists (CHTs) can be PTs or OTs who achieve advanced clinical specialty of the upper limb.
Approximately 2.6 million Americans each year present to the emergency department with hand injuries. Unfortunately, there are only around 7,000 certified hand therapists in the United States to rehabilitate them.
Some of the most common hand injuries include ligament damage, tendon injuries, joint sprains, fractures, or dislocations. These can occur in many ways, ranging from traumatic events such as a fall to overuse injuries from everyday tasks.
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Hand Therapy Certification Commission
According to the Hand Therapy Certification Commission (HTCC), certified hand therapists (CHTs) can be physical therapists (PTs) or occupational therapists (OTs) who achieve advanced clinical specialty of the upper limb.
According to their website, the HTCC has a vision that “every qualified therapist who treats hand and upper limb patients will become a Certified Hand Therapist.” Their goals are to enhance the standards of hand therapy practice, improve the quality of patient care, provide recognition to therapists with these advanced skills, as well as encourage additional PTs and OTs to pursue certification.
Qualifications for Certified Hand Therapists
For physical or occupational therapists to qualify for certification they must have graduated from accredited PT or OT programs and be licensed to practice PT or OT in their home state. While the name ‘certified hand therapist’ may make it sound like these therapists’ expertise stops at the wrist, a true CHT is skilled in the assessment and treatment of the entire upper limb. This includes the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder girdle, and neck area.
According to the HTCC, a CHT will excel in knowledge in the following four domains:
- Assess upper limb and relevant patient characteristics
- Determine prognosis and individualized plan of care
- Implement plan of care and therapeutic interventions
- Basic science and fundamental knowledge
Hand therapy certification
To achieve CHT recognition, practitioners must meet rigorous standards, complete advanced training, and pass a certification examination. The Hand Therapy Certification Examination (HTCE) is offered twice each year at testing centers worldwide, once in the spring and once in the fall.
To apply for certification therapists must have at least 3 years of clinical experience in their field, of which 4,000 hours are required to be direct practice in hand therapy. The initial application is available online through the HTCC website and costs applicants $500.
If approved, therapists must pass a 4-hour, 200 question multiple choice examination to become certified. Once the therapist passes the examination and achieves a CHT denotation, he or she must recertify every 5 years.
Recertification for CHTs requires both professional development hours and work experience hours to prove continuous developmental in the field. Recertification can cost between $450-$550 each recertification period, depending on application timing.
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Finding a CHT
For patients seeking a CHT, the American Society for Hand Therapists (ASHT) maintains a therapist directory where patients can find clinics with CHTs or individual CHTs.
For CHTs, the HTCC website provides resources for mentoring, self-assessment tools, career development guidance, and advocacy content. While this certification is one of the fields newer advancements with only three decades since development, the work of the HTCC, ASHT, and other organizations are ensuring that the ratio of hand injuries to hand injury specialists continues to improve.
This article was written by Cristina Parker PT, DPT, NCS.